Can Los Angeles Be Made To Look Intellectual? On The Photographs Of Florian Maier-Aichen
By: Brienne Walsh
The German artist Florian Maier-Aichen, whose newest photographic works are on view at 303 Gallery through December 22, 2017, can’t do without analog film. “The properties of film – grain, color, detail and depth, mixed with the occasional screw-up that can’t be planned otherwise are far superior to any digital approach as of today,” he told me over email. “It adds opacity to a medium that has lost much of its mystery to me. The excitement of dropping off the film at a lab and waiting for it to be returned can be compared to Christmas. You never know what you get until the next day and you can never be sure it worked out, either.”
In a world saturated with digital images, Maier-Aichen’s photographic works stand out. In his current exhibition at 303 Gallery, half of the images are fairly straightforward landscapes that have been manipulated to produce surreal colors; the other half are digital compositions created using the lasso tool on Photoshop. Juxtaposed together, the works look like part of a show that juxtaposes the desolate realism of documentary photography from the Second World War in Europe with the concurrent rise of abstract expressionism in the United States to teach Art History 101 to freshmen in college.
Maier-Aichen calls the works made on Photoshop “Lasso paintings,” and they are perhaps more interesting to learn about than they are to look at. “Photoshop was for losers,” Maier-Aichen said of his perception of the program just a few years ago. Even still, he was drawn to it. “I think [the Lasso Paintings] were born out of a schizophrenic crisis where I wasn’t able to distinguish analog and digital anymore whenever I started a new project – one side told me to do it in real life or the studio, the other wanted me to paint/draw/construct it on the computer. I was torn between the two worlds, and because in theory, and if done well, you can’t tell the two apart anymore, it became more of a personal fight.”
He turned to the lasso tool, which is meant to smooth edges in a painterly way, to fight the contradiction inside of his practice as a photographer. “I wanted to find out if you can sabotage the program beyond its original intent of fixing up and retouching and orderly collaging and use those tools in a 180-degree turn to come up with a chaotic image of my own that couldn’t be produced otherwise.”
The landscape photographs served as anchors to ground the Lasso Paintings, which are entirely abstract, in the language of photography. They reference compositions by Weegee, Albert Renger-Patzsch, and Jeff Wall — all of whom have been canonized by photography scholars. Weegee took photographs of gory crime scenes; Albert Renger-Patzsch of flowers, plants and landscapes with the precision of a scientist; Jeff Wall uses digital montage to create realistic images that appear not to have been digitally manipulated at all. A few of Maier-Aichen’s images in the exhibition were taken in Los Angeles. “I was trying to use existing images or techniques by Jeff Wall, Weegee and Renger Patzsch to come up with alternatives in the more exotic setting of Southern California which at the same time suffers from that very cliché of blue skies, leisure, beach and glamour,” he says. In essence, he was trying to take the very empty beauty of the entertainment capital of the world, and ground it in serious art historical language.